Pastors in the German Villages of South Russia

By Dr. Homer Rudolf, Richmond, Virginia, July, 2006

Some comments on the training of Lutheran pastors, the use of published sermons, and the responsibilities of the Kuester-Lehrer in South Russia.

Many of the early pastors in South Russia were trained at the Mission Society (Missionsgesellschaft) in Basel, Switzerland. Because almost no Lutheran pastors traveled to South Russia with the early immigrants, most villages were without pastors for some time. By the mid-19th century the University of Dorpat [presently Tartu] in Estonia became the most important training institution for Lutheran pastors. When the University of Dorpat was established in 1802 it included a Lutheran theological faculty that taught in German. However, some pastors who came to South Russia were also trained at various places in Germany. The following book includes significant and comprehensive information on the Lutheran Church in South Russia and the Volga area:

Schnurr, Joseph. Die Kirchlichen und das Religioese Leben der Russlanddeutschen: Evangelischer Teil. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1978.

He documents 1030 mostly Lutheran [and some Reformed] pastors, and includes [when possible] birth and death date; birth and death place; and the churches they served, including the years served at each.

Another important factor in the history of the Lutheran Church in Russia was the fact that "Statutes for the Clergy and the Authorities of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia" was published in German in St. Petersburg with the approval of the Czar in December 1832. It clearly was based upon the official doctrine of the Lutheran Church, and the major  influence on the development of these statutes came from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The subsequent pastors who were trained at Dorpat were generally unwilling to accommodate the diverse beliefs that had been prevalent in 18th-century Wuerttemberg and in South Russia. This eventually stimulated the creation of a number of separate Reformed Parishes in South Russia.

Regarding the use of published sermons:

The annual Farmer's Almanac published in Odessa for the Black Sea Germans [generally referred to as the "Odessa Kalender" - see the full citation below] listed 13 volumes of sermons available from a bookseller in Odessa by the name of K. A. Werlebe. [The advertisement appears on p. 153 of the 1901 edition. Earlier editions also listed books of sermons available from various booksellers.]

Neuer Haus und Landwirthschafts Kalender für duetsche Aussiedler in südlicher Russland auf das Jahr ...  Odessa: Druck und Verlag von L. Nitzsche,  [NOTE: published 1863-1915. Microfilm is currently available for 1881-1915, with some volumes incomplete.]

Only the last names of the authors are given, and include the following:

Some date back to the 18th century, while most were written in the 19th, and authors issued more than one volume of sermons. It appears that all of them were originally published in Germany. Most were reprinted many times, even into the 20th century.

Not only were these sermons used by the Lutheran Kuester-Lehrer in the villages, who read a sermon on those Sundays when the pastor was elsewhere, but copies were obviously also owned by individual families, who probably used them for devotional reading, and perhaps family devotions. This would explain their being advertised for sale by Werlebe in Odessa.

Many copies were brought to the U.S. and Canada by our ancestors, and served as a source of sermons before pastors were available in the areas of settlement, and were likewise read by a deacon in organized congregations in later years, when the pastor was elsewhere. I have acquired five copies in recent years:

Brastberger, Immanuel Gottlob (1716-1764). Evangelische Zeugniss der Wahrheit aufmunterung im wahren Christentum . . . ein vollständicher Jahrgang Predigten. Konstanz: Carl Hirsch, [no date] first edition: 1758.

[a second copy of the above, printed in Germany for:] Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, [no date] [like family bibles, both of the above include opening pages for registering the names and dates of ancestors, family members, marriages, births, and deaths]

Gerok, Karl, weiland Prälat in Stuttgart. Predigten auf alle Fest-, Sonn-, und Feiertage des Kirchenjahrs, vol. 2: Epistel-Predigten. 8th ed. Stuttgart: Greiner & Pfeiffer, [no date 1st ed. 1857]

Hofacker, M. Ludwig, Pfarrer in Rielingshausen in Württemberg. Predigten für alle Sonn-, Fest- und Feiertage, nebst einigen Buss- und Bettags-Predigten und Grabreden. 17th ed. [1st ed. 1833]. Stuttgart: J. F. Steinkopf, 1911.

Siedel, Ernst. Nachklänge aus dem Heiligtum. Predigte über die Evangelien des Kirchenjahres. 5th ed. Dresden & Leipzig: C. Ludwig, 1912 [1st ed. 1892]

And a few comments on the responsibilities and activities of the Kuester-Lehrer. They were, indeed, the assistants to the Lutheran pastors in South Russia. Their general responsibilities were assisting the pastor [in the role of a deacon], often also directing the church choir, and being the church organist. In addition they served as the head of the church village schools, as well as being primarily responsible for the training of young people that led up to confirmation. In the smaller villages they also often served as the village secretary. That served as an additional source of income, and they generally were better educated than the residents of the village.

When the pastor was absent, usually serving another congregation in the parish, the Kuester-Lehrer also took on the responsibility of conducting the Sunday church services. In those cases, a published sermon was read by the Kuester-Lehrer. Certain responsibilities were reserved for the pastor, because of their importance and because they could easily be scheduled at a time when he was present. The most important are communion, weddings and confirmation.

Of course, people died and were born while the pastors were away. Obviously, a burial could not be delayed, so it is logical that the Kuester-Lehrer would officiate at the funeral. However, it may not be clear to many why it was important for the Kuester-Lehrer to baptize infants in the absence of the pastor. A basic precept in the Lutheran Church is the belief in Original Sin with which we are all born. Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church considered Baptism to be a Sacrament in the church which absolved the individual of his/her Original Sin. Should an infant die before baptism, that individual would retain it's Original Sin, hence the emphasis on infant baptism in the Lutheran Church. So baptism also became the responsibility of the Kuester-Lehrer in the absence of the Pastor. In the annual report that the Pastor sent to the St. Petersburg Consistory, he would include an affidavit that the baptisms and funerals had been conducted by the Kuester-Lehrer.

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